Today, April 19, is the 55th day of Ukraine's defense against a full-scale Russian invasion. The battle for Donbas, marking the second stage of the war, has begun.
UPDATE(2045): Russian occupying forces heavily bombed AzovStal in Mariupol. The steel factory, which has become a shelter for more than 2000 people, has been destroyed, Azov deputy commander Kalyna told Radio Liberty.
He said that many people are currently trapped under the rubble.
UPDATE(1908): Ukrainian forces have returned control over Mariinka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine's Army General Staff reported in an update from the front.
According to the Ukrainian military, today Russian occupiers tried to storm Ukrainian positions south of Izyum, a strategic city in Kharkiv Oblast, controlled by Russians. But they failed and had to return to their earlier positions.
Heavy fights are going on near Oleksandrivka village of Kherson Oblast, as the occupants have been trying to take control over the oblast's borders.
Meanwhile, Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to the head of the President's Office of Ukraine, has told NV Radio that Bucha and Kramatorsk massacres have changed the tone in Russo-Ukrainian negotiations. "It has become emotional. It is hard to keep a dry diplomatic tone after what happened. But we continue to work in subgroups," Podolyak said.
UPDATE(1855): Russian occupiers have been preparing to organize sham referendums in the occupied parts of Ukraine's south, the Defense Ministry of Ukraine Main Intelligence Directorate has reported.
According to Ukrainian intelligence in Kherson Oblast, the occupiers have already started producing ballots for recognizing occupation authorities and creating Kherson People's Republic. Locals are sure there will be no real voting, just a few supporters allegedly voting for a picture on Russian TV.
The occupiers will forge the voting using passports data they took from citizens in exchange for humanitarian aid.
In occupied Snihurivka, an occupied town in Mykolaiv Oblast, local collaborators have been calling locals to come and vote for joining the Russian-occupied Crimea.
And in the occupied parts of Zaporizhzhia Oblast Russians have started preparing to issue Russian passports to locals.
UPDATE(1825): Russian invading forces have intensified their offensive in Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine's Defense Ministry spokesperson Oleksandr Motuzyanik has said during a briefing.
"Their main goal is to take Donetsk and Luhansk Oblast under full control, as well as hold the land corridor to the occupied Crimea," Motuzianyk said, meaning occupied parts of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson oblasts.
UPDATE(1704): Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has asked the Ukrainian Parliament to prolong martial law until May 25.
Zelensky submitted a bill on prolongation to the Rada on April 19.
UPDATE(1514): Fifth prisoners' swap between Russia and Ukraine happened today, Iryna Vereshchuk, Ukraine's reintegration minister said in a Telegram statement on April 19.
Ukraine has rescued 76 people from Russian captivity - 60 soldiers and 17 civilians.
Earlier Vereshchuk reported more than 1000 Ukrainians are currently held captive by Russian occupying fores.
UPDATE(1500): More than 1000 civilians were killed during Russia's offensive in Kyiv Oblast, Andriy Nebytov, the head of the National Police of Kyiv Oblast, has said in a statement.
More than 450 bodies were found in Bucha alone. Many people started to return to Kyiv Oblast. Every day they find more corpses in their yards, houses, and wells, Nebytov added.
UPDATE(1329): Ukrainian forces have successfully repelled the Russian offensive in Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast twice in the last two days, Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko has said in a statement.
One civilian has been killed in the shelling. A gas pipe has been damaged.
In the neighboring Luhansk Oblast Russians damaged an electricity line, leaving most of the settlements of the besieged region without electricity, the local oblast council has reported.
More than 200 villages and towns are in a blackout.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has announced Russians have started "the next phase of the special operation in Ukraine" aimed to seize the whole territory of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.
When asked about the possibility of using nuclear weapons in Ukraine, Lavrov said Russia will continue to use the ordinary weapons option at this stage of the war.
In a late-night statement on April 18, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and State Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov said that the Russians have ramped up their offensive all across the front line in Ukraine's east. The battle for Donbas, which will define the result of Russia's war against Ukraine, has started, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Army reported.
Ukrainian forces have successfully repelled seven attacks of the enemy in the Donbas.
At the same time, Russian invading forces continued to shell Mykolaiv and Kharkiv oblasts - the main directions from where the Ukrainian army is heading to help its forces in the east. The Mykolaiv Oblast council has reported that Russians have used cluster bombs, which explode and disperse a range of submunitions over a wide area, against civilian targets.
Early in the morning, Russian proxy forces from Donetsk announced they started to storm the AzovStal steel factory in Mariupol, where Ukrainian soldiers and about 1000 civilians are hiding.
Overnight Russians also shelled several settlements of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast.
General Staff of Ukrainian Armed Forces has reported Russia has already had 20,800 soldiers killed in action in Ukraine.